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Opinion

Opinion: Financial services still penalising women for natural life events

MenopauseOn World Menopause Day (October 18) Jayne Brown of Simplify Consulting notes that a tenth of women quit their job over this natural stage of their lives.

It’s 2022 and we should be operating in a time where there is equality in terms of opportunity, pay and treatment for both men and women in financial services. Sadly, this is clearly not the case.

In detailed research with over 100 professional females in finance, we found that 50% of them have experienced barriers to progression linked to life events, such as starting a family or caring for family members, a requirement for flexible working (family commitments) and menopause.

Many such life events are unavoidable, but the financial services industry remains, in the main, inflexible in the face of them. Something’s got to give and all too often it’s women’s career aspirations.

One in four women in financial services says that maternity leave impedes career progression whether that’s being judged on the potential to have children in the future, being pregnant or having just had a baby. Recruitment and promotion opportunities must still exist if she is the right person for the role.

Through our research, we found that deciding to start a family goes hand in hand with making some career-progression sacrifices.

Here are just two examples of experiences from the women we surveyed:

“During a period of maternity leave, my job was given to somebody else."

“I hid my pregnancy for almost five months whilst progressing through a promotion process.”

A culture shift is needed to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. Where this discrimination is happening, women should be brave and call it out as unacceptable and begin the wave for change. Equally, their male counterparts should be brave in supporting a call for a change in attitude, culture and poor corporate behaviour

Flexible working
Starting a family often calls for the need for flexible working, with some women preferring to return to work part-time. Our research has highlighted that this also creates barriers to career progression.

While parents are busy starting their own families and adapting to family life with a career, older relatives are also ageing further. As men and women approach the latter years of their working careers, estimated beyond 50, they may be required to become informal carers on top of their other personal commitments.

Flexibility is needed for all employees to adopt flexible working policies and practices that include being able to work from home and being able to work more amenable hours. The policy should allow all employees to achieve a balance to help them manage family or caring commitments around their employment. Senior managers should be helping to promote the policies in place for flexible working, leading by example by taking paternity/maternity leave, adapting hours to care for older relatives and children to show that the written policy is accepted and is worth the paper it is written on.

Flexible working needn’t have negative connotations. Companies may find that offering that flexibility will bring high-quality employees back to the business when needed. Giving a person the opportunity to work the hours that most suit them around family commitments can mean the person is more focused when they are working.

The pandemic has certainly changed the perception of flexible working. It will be interesting to see if this considerably changes the outlook for employers who in the past would not have favoured such working arrangements.

"Giving a person the opportunity to work the hours that most suit them around family commitments can mean the person is more focused when they are working."

Regardless, working flexibly should absolutely not rule someone out of a promotion or job position. The technological advances of today allow so much more and this should be embraced.

A completely natural transition that will affect all females and half of the workforce and yet, a taboo subject that isn’t openly discussed. Menopause needs to be normalised.

Significant life event
Menopause, as many within financial services are only now becoming aware, is another significant life event for a female professional that sadly can impact her career in a negative manner. Symptoms that females often don’t even associate with menopause can occur much earlier than expected.

The realisation that many women, for many years, have been so unaware of this phase of life and how much effect it can have is truly shocking. Added to which, many suffering females haven’t felt this can be discussed openly and honestly at home, let alone in the workplace.

The lack of communication and awareness around menopause has been passed through generations, with many mothers of menopausal women not openly sharing their experiences either. It is an unavoidable process that every female will experience, it is entirely natural so why hasn’t it been discussed?

The facts are that 80% of women experience symptoms related to menopause and one out of 10 women quit their jobs due to menopause.

Employers have a duty to help raise awareness and remove the stigma. A menopause policy is a great place to start but putting the policy into practice is what is needed.

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